Dec. 11, 2009 at 7:38 PM ET
Just a day after a Russian rocket launch set off a spate of UFO sightings in Norway, yet another missile test created a similar sky show over the heart of Russia.
Like Wednesday's launch of the submarine-based Bulava missile from the White Sea, Thursday's launch of the land-based Topol ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar missile range on the lower Volga River sparked plenty of sightings. Reports came in from Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Ufa and other cities, said NBC News space analyst James Oberg.
The rocket plume created a spiral pattern in the sky, though the pattern wasn't as striking as the one seen over Norway earlier in the week. "The difference in sunlight conditions from pre-dawn northern Norway may account for much of the visual differences," Oberg said.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said the test launch was successful, and the missile came down to earth in the Sary Shagan military reservation in eastern Kazakhstan. Oberg said the spiral plume doesn't necessarily mean anything was amiss, even though that was seen as a tip-off that the White Sea launch was a failure.
"I continue to get suggestions that the third-stage spin is a 'feature,' not a malfunction, and may be associated with guidance, or decoy deploy, or enhancing hardness against U.S. boost-phase antimissile weapons," he wrote in an e-mail. The latest space spin suggests that the spiral plume patterns seen over Norway aren't all that unusual, a view that Jeffrey Lewis confirms at ArmsControlWonk.com.
"The first rocket UFO was so much fun, the Russians fired off another one as an encore!" Oberg wrote. "Actually, the timing of the two tests is almost certainly accidental."
Check out the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces blog for more about the post-START missile test, and check out this roundup for video and imagery showing the rocket's glare: